Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Screen Space = More Productivity

Two years ago, I got myself a dual-monitor setup and have been preaching its benefits ever since. However, I was never able to back up my claim of huge productivity gains with scientific data. There have been some articles on this: But these pieces never elaborated on how they came up with the numbers. A fun example is this report, which apparently bases a 42% productivity gain estimate on polls, not measurements: "Sir, how much did the second screen improve your productivity?", "Ehm, I don't know, I had one before and now I have two, so I guess it doubled!"


That's why I was happy to come across this Pfeiffer Report (long version) which measures the productivity of using a 17-inch LCD vs. the 30-inch Apple Cinema Display. Sure, the report was paid for by Apple, but the results are pretty clear. For their experiments, they clearly defined tasks such as "Moving Files Between Folders" and "Full-Page Editing (InDesign)" - identical step sequences, executed three times each by trained professionals. They found productivity gains between 39 and 73%.

Finally, some hard numbers from systematic measurements. I hope one of the LCD manufacturers will soon get the idea to repeat this study for single-screen vs. dual-screen.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

huh. I can see why a bigger screen would make DTP document editing better. But "moving files between folders?"- only if you're some moron doing it with a GUI. For a nontrivial amount of files, it's faster to use "mv" at the command line. Unless you're on Windoze with its anaemic command line, of course, but Linux and Mac OS X have respectable command lines.

Gabor said...

anonymous: Here's the task definition from the long version of the report:

"Moving Files Between Folders (Finder): The test measured the time necessary to select a group of files and moving it between folders, resizing and repositioning windows as necessary."

So I assume it was more than just one single move operation.

I'm not sure I agree with your opinion of "mv": I find it a lot less effective than GUIs, especially if the files you're moving are somewhere deep in the folder hierarchy. "Tab-beep tab-beep tab-beep." :-)

Anonymous said...

"Tab-beep tab-beep tab-beep."

Who are you, Ellen Feiss??

The command line is most certainly faster than click-and-drool style moving of files.

vanjulio said...

VirtuaWin is your friend.

Anonymous said...

"The command line is most certainly faster than click-and-drool style moving of files."

True for most cases, but there are some specific cases where c'n'd is a lot more efficient. For example, moving specific images based on their content or picking files from a non-systematically (but sensibly) named set.

Gabor said...

There's no reason to make such sweeping statements. It's easy to imagine scenarios in which the GUI interface is better.

This is not a GUI vs. command line war, though. The "moving files" example is one of ~20 tasks they tested.

Anonymous said...

Even with just the command line, a big screen is way more efficient. I just moved from a 19" CRT to a 30" Cinema Display, even the ability to view a larger terminal window with dozens of lines is a huge productivity boost.

Anonymous said...

"This is not a GUI vs. command line war"

Using Total Commander, I bet I can move files between folders faster than anyone using Windows Explorer or a command line.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree that a bigger screen increases productivity, but that has nothing to do with using two screens. I've used two screens in the past and found it annoying to have to remember which window is on which screen, and switching between applications became slower. Sure, there are some types of applications where it'll be useful, but for me as a software developer, it wasn't as useful as I hoped. I'm back to using one screen.

Anonymous said...

Please, stop writting software. Any tool is only as good as the person that uses it. If you expected it to magically increase you productivity, than I am sorry for you. I happen to be a software engineer as well and two monitors is definately the way to go.

ajrw said...

Using two screens gave me mad eyestrain and headaches.. but oh the productivity! Back to one (laptop) screen for now though.

Ellis Miller said...

http://www.browse3d.com/

Philo said...

I love it. Apple publishes a study which states that more screen real estate improves productivity, and the geeks - the folks for whom this study would be most helpful - attack the methodology of the study.

Wake up, you nits - close your mouth and use the damn thing to get a bigger monitor.

Anonymous said...

Y stop at 2 ? :) Y not 3 Monitor, or 4 Monitor ?

Anonymous said...

"- only if you're some moron doing it with a GUI."

Hahahaha! Seriously! GUIs are for idiots. I'd watch out for the CL too - I myself prefer the simple elegance of an Etch-o-Sketch. But, ya know, I'm 20th level with max Int and all Comp skills.

Mithras The Prophet said...

I recently moved from two widescreens (1440 and 1680) to a "wide and a narrow." I rotated one of my LCDs to be tall and skinny, and I'm in love. I can read PDFs, web pages, and emails like they're real documents now, an entire page at a time, and yet still have a separate widescreen for doing stuff. Highly recommended :)

-aaron

technical writer said...

I am a technical writer, and I read with interest your blog and the report on increasing productivity by using large screens.
I am planning to upgrade from my 19" CRT (now fuzzy beyond 1024x768).
I often need to refer to an outline or a hardware manual or a requirements/design spec etc while writing, or to copy or compare between documents (or manually "single source" related manuals). I also have to adjust final page layout, so I need to view a full page (or two) at once, in MS Word at 100%.

I wonder if you have any advice for me, since I cannot afford a 32" display at this time. Obviously, there are possibilities in between: 17,19,20,21, etc. My real budget is only $500, although I am considering spending more ($1000?) if I can justify it based upon the productivity increase. $1000 buys (where I live) a fine 21" monitor, such as the Samsung 214T. Do you think I should buy one 21" monitor, or two 19" monitors that can rotate (portrait mode)?

I would appreciate very much if you have any suggestions for my application.

Sincerely,
TechWriter